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7.15.08
Sixth Town Hall Held

at St. Vladimir’s Seminary

The sixth OCA Town Hall, held Saturday afternoon, July 12th, at St. Vladimir’s Seminary (SVS) in Crestwood, NY, was attended by some 60 persons. According to participants, there were “no surprises” in the statements and comments made, but that in general, “strong, constructive and critical things were said” especially by the many clergy in attendance concerning the “general breakdown of leadership and communication in the OCA” that has led to “denial and cover-up concerning the scandal”. Reviews of this Town Hall, as with previous Town Halls, though, were mixed: some left muttering “about polite talk being the way to Hell”,  others felt the meeting was “productive”, while still others entered and left “conflicted”.

Among the clergy present at this Town Hall were former OCA Secretary, Fr. Paul Kucynda, OCA External Affairs Secretary, Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky, Fr. Alexei Karlgut from the Office of the Metropolitan (in charge of investigations of sexual misconduct), Fr. Chad Hatfield, Chancellor of St. Vladimir’s, Frs. Vinogradov, Belonick, Ryklin, Vernak, Plekon, Erickson, among others, as well as SVS Professors Bouteneff and Barnett.

Representing the Pre-Conciliar Commission were all three officers of the Church - OCA Chancellor, Fr. Alexander Garklavs, OCA Treasurer, and the new OCA Secretary, Fr. Eric Tosi - as well as Bishop Nikon. It was the first time since the OCA Administration was reorganized 18 months ago,  in December 2006, that the heads of all three offices, finally staffed, were together. Director of Communications and Ministries, Fr. Andrew Jarmus was also present. With Fr. Hatfield, as the local host, the Bishop and the four OCA staff members sat a head table and served as the panel.

A brief report was  posted on OCA.org yesterday that focused on Bishop Nikon and Fr. Garklavs’s remarks rather than on the comments of the participants. (Read that story here.)

According to participants the meeting began with a prayer and greetings by Bishop Nikon, Fr. Hatfield and Fr. Garklavs. During the next 60 minutes some twenty speakers raised a variety of themes and concerns. Among the comments were:

“Dialogue would be helpful”

“ We cannot ignore this problem (of the scandal). The vision of Fr Alexander Schmemann is incompatible with such things. Must come to terms with what has happened. This is real repentance.”

“The relationship between laity, clergy, and hierarchy has become wider - they are now clashing.”

 “We’ve had sobors on the themes of accountability and transparency.” The speaker, a clergyman, then reminded all of the misery of the   Diocese of NY and NJ /Washington and NY assemblies over the last 7-8 years, at which those who raised questions about the known misuse of Diocesan monies were told by the Metropolitan: ‘You will never find out where the money went, there’ll be no audits and no more questions. Get back to the business of the Church.’ The speaker also mentioned the disparity  between the two recent archepiscopal letters, one from Archbishop Job and the other from Archbishop Seraphim,  with the latter's equating criticism of the Metropolitan with “patricide.” 

The Town Hall speakers continued:

“When a misdeed is public, repentance must be public.” ( The speaker then told a story of friendship being destroyed by theft by one person. The item was returned, but no apology, or act of repentance offered, and thus friendship was not restored. ) “As long as an apology is not coming, whether or not the “gift” is returned, what kind of dialogue can take place in OCA?”  

“People may be angry, but perhaps with real repentance, anger can be overcome...”

“There is embarrassment to tell people about the Church. One hears of rumors, and then learns that they have truth to them. This is hard to take. Hard to tell others, too.”

“There has still been no admission after 3 years. The Church is still waiting for a sign that there will be some action.”

Fr Alexander Garklavs spoke, stating that "there was no single, clear understanding yet about what actually went wrong.” The Special Investigative Committee is now meeting, he pointed out, and “their goal is to outline and present a report how we got into this financial/administrative crisis.” That report is expected at the end of the summer.

The speakers went on, however, pointing out that:

“SVS could take lead in needed discussions of ecclesiology and conciliarity. There was a cultural agreement to not question bishops, and a confusion of the meaning of monarchial episcopacy. Stewardship, not monarchy, is the key."

“The report of the SIC must go to the laity. It belongs to everybody. It is our hope that common sense will prevail, no matter what the report contains. If it can’t be made public, it won’t accomplish anything.”

Fr. Garklavs then changed the topic, asking for recommendations about what should take place at the Council , and/or what should come out of the gathering.

Fr Michael Tassos spoke and asked "If there is no vision, why put together a budget? The Council must deal with the challenge of what is the vision of the OCA and what can be funded? We are a small church."

The next speaker then proposed “that the relationship between the seminaries and OCA be more clearly defined. “ St Herman’s, he pointed out, is run on the diocesan level, while  St. Tikhon’s seems to be conflated with a Diocese.

The eighteenth speaker asked:


"What does financial accountability mean?
Do the hierarchy hear concerns of clergy and laity? 
Can we affirm again the vision of the OCA? What is that vision? How do we implement it? 
How is the Special Investigative Committee’s report to be implemented?

How is conciliarity to be understood in practical terms?"

Bishop Nikon then revealed that the Metropolitan Council and the Synod will receive the report of the SIC at the same time, thus avoiding any  suspicion of “editing” by the hierarchy. 

Following a short break, speakers continued on the theme of the Special Committee’s report. As one stated: “We can work things through now, or we can wait until all is revealed in the eschaton.”

Fr Michael Tassos replied that “We may never have all of the answers, for we can’t answer everything perfectly. There are, and will be, gaps. We can’t determine what every credit card purchase was for.”  Fr. Tassos explained that he had met with SIC and their lawyer, going over records - and there were still gaps.

Father Garklavs asked the group to  move on, and to begin discussing their  “wish list” for what the OCA should be....

Among the more poignant comments was one from a cleric that the “Orthodox Church  was vulnerable throughout world.” While we in the OCA are trying to face up to our crisis, scandals in other places are still swept under rug.  He explained that while visions of the past  had been fulfilled, the expected fruit did not result. Too many priests continue to live in isolation, avoiding deanery meetings, diocesan meetings.  “We need a vision that helps us bring the whole Church together - to be honest with one another and go to a higher plane,” he commented. 

In his closing comments Fr. Garklavs stated that all that all the concerns discussed today - repentance, restoration of vision, addressing issues of conciliarity, etc., - are shared by him and other clergy at Syosset. They pledged themselves, he said, “to do the best they can.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Bishop Nikon remarked how amazed he was at how people are speaking out. “We are here because we are looking for resolution,” he stated. He hoped that over the 3 days in Pittsburgh the OCA can begin a real healing process, to  “start again, start new, start fresh, start to revitalize. We cannot do that without you.”  He knows the Church “is wounded” and “was betrayed.” The Bishop then made the comment that, when he looks at other bishops, he asks, "which of them don’t care about priests or people as some people charge?” His answer: “None.”  

The next Town Hall will be held in Cleveland, Ohio this Thursday, July 17th. 

-Mark Stokoe

 
 

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